Creating 'Homeland''s Carrie
What makes 'Homeland''s CIA genius tick? In part, TV writer Meredith Stiehm, who spins material for Claire Danes' fascinating character from her family's experience with bipolar disorder.
If you’re fascinated by CIA operative Carrie Mathison’s mental illness on Homeland, thank writer Meredith Stiehm. She’s responsible for many of the Emmy-winning drama’s most emotionally fraught episodes — ”The Weekend,” ”The Vest” (co-written with Chip Johannessen), ”New Car Smell” — that delve into the bipolar disorder of Claire Danes’ character.
Some of Stiehm’s inspiration comes from personal experience: Her sister has bipolar disorder. But Homeland‘s exec producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa didn’t know the writer’s family history when they asked her to join the show. The 44-year-old Emmy winner’s reputation in Hollywood was for writing women in male-dominated fields — see her work on NYPD Blue and Cold Case — and the Showtime drama needed more X chromosomes in its all-male writers’ room.
Explains Stiehm, ”I became the person who studied…that aspect of the character.” Research led her to interview her sister, attend a symposium on the illness, and watch clips of people in manic states. Stiehm’s sister was moved to tears by the resemblance between Carrie’s experiences and her own. Some scenes are difficult for her to watch, especially in ”The Vest,” when Carrie spends hours obsessively mapping out terrorist Abu Nazir’s plans. ”Grandiose thoughts are typical of someone who’s manic,” says Stiehm. A high-stakes work environment like the CIA only compounds the uncertainty. ”Is it real or is it happening in [her] head?” she asks. ”That’s the beauty of Carrie. You don’t know.”